Beersheba’s Carasso Science Park, a NIS 160 million project initiated by the Rashi Foundation and undertaken by several partners including the municipality and the Education Ministry, officially opens its gates on Sunday.

The park, which extends over some 17 hectares in Beersheba’s Old City, hosts 11 interactive exhibitions; the central attraction of the museum is a nuclear energy display developed in collaboration with the Nuclear Research Center and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

The park will also serve as an educational facility for students from high schools in the area; they will come several times a year with their class to conduct experiments, guided by staff, and visit exhibits directly connected to their studies.

The goal of the complex is to “kindle interest in science and technology and offer opportunities for acquiring science skills and knowledge, within an innovative educational framework,” according to the Rashi Foundation.

The idea for the science park was born in 2005, as part of the Education Ministry’s MADAROM project, established back in 1997 with Rashi to strengthen science and technology education in the South. Another initiative that resulted from the project is the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center at Ben-Gurion University.

“This park is in fact the icing on the cake of the MADAROM project,” Hubert Leven, president of the Rashi Foundation, told The Jerusalem Post with a smile last week. “It’s the end product of the project.”

“Beersheba has particularly invested in making the city and the region attractive in recent years due to the transfer of the military there,” Leven explained. “But we came here way before that and the idea then was really to focus on the periphery and close the gaps.”

“There were huge educational and social gaps and our ambition was really to try and close them, so we are practically not invested in the center of the country where there are more resources,” he continued.

Itzik Turgeman, Rashi’s executive vice president and director-general, said being involved in the periphery allows the foundation to “make an impact.”

“It’s not something you can achieve in one project, it’s a concept,” he said. “There is wonderful potential in the South and the periphery as a whole, and all we need to do is give the kids tools to become excellent.”

To make a big change, Turgeman stressed, there needs to be “a critical mass of excellent graduates who will want to start their own companies in the town they live in: Dimona, Beersheba and so on.

“In Israel, we have three main science museums: One in Jerusalem, one at the Weizmann Institute [in Rehovot] and the Technion’s Madatech [in Haifa],” he pointed out.

“The access of citizens from the South to these three science museums is very poor so most of them don’t attend museums, and we know that museums are key elements in exposing people to the beauty of science, of higher education.

“Knowing that kids in the South are not exposed to museums explains part of the existing gaps,” he said.

Turgeman explained that an other element is needed to help children achieve excellence: Infrastructures.

“If you don’t have computers in school, if you don’t have labs in school, you can continue to talk about how important science is, but you can’t achieve anything,” he said.

“If you look at kids who go to museums, they play with the exhibits and they run from one to the other, but at the end of the visit you ask them what they learned and they haven’t necessarily learned anything, besides the fun,” he added. “That’s why we made it so they first see an exhibit and then go to the lab [at the science park] where they practice what they saw, so that at the end of the process, the kids will understand better what they learned in school and it will be more realistic for them.”

According to Turgeman, even after children are provided the appropriate exposure and infrastructure and become excellent in scientific subjects, there are still missing pieces to the process: They need access to higher education.

“When you reach the point that they have a degree in science, you have officially made an impact,” he said. “This is not a one-year project, it’s a long-term vision.”

“Very often you find kids who have the potential, they pass the matriculation exam at a high level but for socioeconomic reasons don’t pursue higher education, and then they need the extra push,” Leven said.

The Rashi Foundation aspires to “create qualified population to the South who will lead the future Silicon Valley of Israel.”

“We have everything we need to make this happen in the South,” Turgeman said with conviction. “The army which has moved down there, an excellent university [BGU] and vast land to build on.

“When there will be hi-tech industry in the periphery, talented population will stay there and population from the Center will prefer to leave the dense city and go to the South or the North,” he explained.

Leven added that this aspiration is “not just a hope, it’s a reality.”

“When you see where the South is now compared to 15 years go, you see it’s real,” he said.

The Carasso Science Park is part of the Gustave Leven Campus, named after the late founder of the Rashi Foundation, which also includes hotel accommodation, a swimming pool and a dining room.

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